Letters – 14 March 2019

三月 14, 2019

Cheats: address the game, not just the players

From what I have observed, three factors have led to the rise of essay mills (“Should students who use essay mills be criminalised?”, News, 7 March).

First, students are under intense pressure to gain top grades to secure a place in graduate training programmes. At the same time, rising numbers must combine study with semi full-time work.

Second, deadlines for assignments that have sizeable impact on overall degree marks are increasingly non-negotiable. This comes as an extra challenge for students who must work.

And third, precarious PhD students and postdoctoral fellows, including those with teaching fellowships or graduate teaching assistant roles, must supplement their income by helping students in their work, at times earning as much as £50,000-£75,000 a year.

Parents of Chinese students in London have sought postgraduate students to employ them, alongside their usual university roles, on a fixed term for sums of £30,000-£50,000, often with the condition that they provide a student with additional, exclusive “tailored” assistance. One postdoc fellow at a London institution was given rent-free family accommodation in Bloomsbury by a Middle Eastern parent in exchange for coaching and assisting their student offspring on an exclusive basis.

More than a few postdoc fellows and GTAs say that such arrangements have been a lifesaver. One postdoc said that she had no regrets in coaching her own students only to mark the very same coursework later: “It is much better than others offering so-called private services outside academic hours, which would otherwise be seen as obscene acts damaging the image of the academic institution.”

The issue of contract cheating, plagiarism and the wealthy paying for help to secure top grades must be approached in holistic way. It cannot be solved overnight.

Via timeshighereducation.com

Class warfare

Some comments on the feature “The end of my tether” (7 March) are a shocking response to someone’s speaking their truth about oppression. Yet they illustrate the working-class author’s point about the lack of understanding of class-ism and cruelty in academia.

The author is not seeking pity – she is seeking justice. She outlines the policy that needs to change, and she explains the need by sketching the problems that working-class scholars can face. And she wants to set up a network to help others (and herself).

She should be admired for her courage, determination and resilience, not disparaged. She has touched a nerve – is this middle-class fragility showing its ugly face?

Not always right
Via timeshighereducation.com


In response to the article by the “working-class” academic, many commenters paint a picture of “otherness”. It’s instructive that the companion piece talks about Pierre Bourdieu’s suggestion of “a deficiency of cultural and social bridging capital”.

So let’s lay it out. I am from the working class. And I’m northern to boot. I’ve worked in HE for about 20 years in a variety of roles. I am neither proud nor ashamed of where I’m from: it is simply part of who and what I am. I grew up in a stable environment and made something of the chances that came my way. Some of that is about me; some is just luck. And yes, in some places one must fight against entrenched snobbery and a sense of privilege.

But context is all. The social and cultural networks in the academy are highly contextual, and there are institutions and disciplines where the context will differ. If you are not from a particular milieu, there are some networks where you simply will not fit, and that fit is not always about class. But sometimes it is. Yet that is true outside the academy, too.

Via timeshighereducation.com

Right royal dogfight

I was delighted to see my own university’s Jimmy Chipolata featured in the press, not least in Times Higher Education (Week in Higher Education, News, 7 March), championing the benefits of therapy dogs. I was all the more disappointed that my own therapy-qualified Stella (pictured) has been prohibited from campus.

Whatever can explain this flagrant injustice – Jimmy’s Cromwellian determination to be “top dog”? (Stella is, after all, a “royal” Cavalier King Charles spaniel.)

All this hot on the tail (sorry) of the feature “Are universities hotbeds of left-wing bias?” (21 February) – cock-up or conspiracy?

Peter J. Smith
Reader in Renaissance literature
Nottingham Trent University

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